In Episode 21 of “5 Questions with the CEO,” General Joe Votel talks with the wildly successful start-up genius, Jeremy Hitchcock, BENS member, and co-founder and Partner at New North Ventures. Hitchcock talks about co-founding his first company as a college sophomore, the public challenge that almost derailed it, and how overcoming it led to its acquisition for over $600M. Learn about getting started and the importance of being a good person through it all.
The two talk about courage and the advice Hitchcock gives to aspiring entrepreneurs of any age: “Get started today! The worst thing that can happen is that you get a real job!”
Hitchcock shares how important it is to surround yourself with young people who can keep you current with fresh ideas, and how Clay Christiansen’s book: “How Will You Measure Your Life” helped him think more about happiness, ethics, and setting a strategy for how you conduct yourself as a good professional and person no matter your level of success.
Jeremy is a co-founder and Partner at New North Ventures, an early-stage venture fund advancing innovation in the national interest. Prior to New North Ventures, Mr. Hitchcock was co-founder and CEO of Dyn, an Internet data company acquired by Oracle in 2017 for over $600 million. He also co-founded Minim (NASDAQ:MINM), a consumer networking company manufacturing intelligent edge networking devices. Located in Manchester, NH, Mr. Hitchcock holds a B.S. in Management Information Systems from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and New Hampshire Tech Alliance. Previously he was a trustee at Southern New Hampshire University and the Community College System of New Hampshire. Alongside his wife, Liz, he owns an independent bookstore Bookery Manchester.
Business Executives for National Security welcomes you to Five Questions with the CEO where BENS CEO, General Joe Votel, former commander of all United States Special Forces and forces in 21 countries in the Middle East and Asia, interviews top business leaders focusing on their stories, strategies, and real-world experiences. Here we want to know why they’re passionate about sharing their talents and insights to assist senior leaders in the national security enterprise as they solve some of our nation’s most pressing challenges and why they’re part of a growing number of executives who understand that national security is everyone’s business.
General Joe Votel (00:44):
Well, welcome everybody to another episode of Five Questions with the CEO. Joining us today is Boston member Jeremy Hitchcock. Jeremy is a co-founder and partner at New North Ventures an early stage venture fund, advancing innovation in the national interest. And he is also a co-founder and executive chairperson of wifi management and IoT security startupMinim. While living in his dorm room at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, WPI. Jeremy co-founded Dyn, an internet data company acquired by Oracle in 2017. Jeremy is adept at leading various technological development teams to solve security problems at the national commercial and consumer levels. In addition to as many talents and successes, he and his wife Liz, run a cozy independent bookstore and partner with Manchester Moves, improving biking and walkability in the greater Manchester New Hampshire area. So, Jeremy, welcome. We’re glad to have you today. Thanks for joining us.
Jeremy Hitchcock (01:45):
Thanks, General, I’m excited to be here.
General Joe Votel (01:47):
Good, good. Well, thanks thanks so much. You’ve got such a really interesting story. I mean, it’s just so extraordinary. I mean, being at WPI studying chemistry as a sophomore, and then you team up with a couple of other students to work on a remote access project of course this project later becomes known as Dyn becomes a wildly successful tech upstart. So how do you go from studying chemistry at WPI to creating Dyn in your dorm room? You’d barely left high school, I think, I think you already started when you were a sophomore there. So how in the world did you manage to pull all that off? And what inspired you to launch that?
Jeremy Hitchcock (02:25):
Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s a fun journey and as you get older, every year you hear a bio of yourself and you think, did I actually do all that? I mean, gosh it is, it is somewhat surreal looking back at it. But the general premise was I was hanging out with a bunch of friends and we were sitting next to a printer that, a computer that we were in a lab room wouldn’t talk to it. And I said, Hey, geez, how do we hook this up? How do we make this work? And so it was wintertime and, and the, the, the basic premise was it’s cold out and the computer that we were using was able to print us something that was a couple buildings down, so obviously would’ve been five, 10 minutes to just go and get the, the silly lab paper and turn it in. But no, no, no, we, we were gonna spend hours on, on coming up with a solution so we could actually get the computer and the printer that was next to actually talked to each other. And so through that learned a lot about internet architecture and infrastructure and how they worked, got this thing working after a period of time. And, and that project became an open source project and, you know, necessity is the mother of invention many times. And that was, that was, that was pretty much the genesis of, of the actual project. After a few months, a bunch of other people were starting to use this thing and was the days of high-speed internet at home, we were gonna shut this thing down. It was run on a friend’s computer. He wanted to use it for gaming or whatever else. So we put out this moral challenge to our, our, our customer base. Uh at this point we had about 25,000 users who were, were using this and they’re not paying for it, just something free. That was online. That was kind of the, the premise. No software as a service, no fully developed internet like we have. But we said, if, if on average each of you send in a dollar, we’ll, we’ll run this as a, as a real product. I’ll turn this into a company and, and after a month, we’ll, we’ll see how it goes. And so after a month, $40,000 shows up and, and that began the start of a 15 year journey thinking that we’re gonna be off the hook, we’re gonna be able to walk away. But that, that wasn’t the case. And, and it was certainly a been a fun time and completely unexpected. It was not something I went to school thinking, Hey, let’s go start an internet company. It just organically happened by again, that, that, that sitting in the lab room trying to get something to print that’s
General Joe Votel (04:30):
Amazing. Just over trying to get a printer to work and something starts outta something. Like that’s really, really an extraordinary story. You know, in the in the profession that I come from, the military, we talk a lot about courage. And one of the things that I’ve observed in my time since being here at BENS and getting to know, you know, executives like you, and of course the other 400 or so that we have across the country, is that, you know courage comes in a lot of forms and it takes a tremendous amount of courage to do what you did. What, what do you tell young people about turning their great ideas and aspirations into action?
Jeremy Hitchcock (05:05):
The simple thing is, you gotta start today. I mean, everybody thinks, oh, you have this grand plan. You lay it out, you spend months and months and you actually execute. Then after that something happens. And it’s a much more organic process because building a company is, is really a combination of, of skill, timing, luck. And the worst it happens is you go get a real job. That was the thing I would always tell people who were, we’re, we’re interviewing about coming to work for a startup. That small scrappy thing run by, by 20 year olds don’t work for us. Go get a real job if something works out. Yeah. And, and the thing I would always say is that there’s, there’s really no school for CEOs. You, you can pick up skills, abilities, but you really have to deploy them. And the best way to do that is by actual, by actually doing, by, by the actions. And so we, we were thoughtful like I think a lot of young aspiring leaders are to surround yourself with good people, smart people. They encouraged us to keep pushing in different areas. And we got advice from all, all sides you know, go left, go right, and you have to chart your own direction. But it, it gave us a, a view on where, where we could go. And ultimately we took part of the internet, a set of protocols and systems that no one really cared about in, in a, in a real strategic way. Timing of, of the emerging cloud was, was very fortunate for us. And, and so we were able to, to, to build a company that was pretty interesting. And, and so I always think how to be able to bring the, that information back into a classroom group of students. We would bring in interns, part-time people from, from, from school and college, and that helped keep us fresh. And, and so as much as they got to learn from us, I see it now more and more as a way to keep myself current to understand what’s going on at the bleeding edge. And so while it is, does take a little bit of courage, there were some lonely times about running the company and, and making tough decisions about, and really it’s always about people. It’s, it’s about what’s, what’s in the best interest of the organization, what’s in the best interest of the team. That viewpoint of what, what to do for customers, I think was one of our guiding things that really helped us push ahead and, and figure out like what was the best way for Dyn to chart its course.
General Joe Votel (07:20):
I just wanna pick up on kind of the discussion on, on young people a little bit. I mean, obviously I know you stay in contact with a lot of, of folks like that. What do you grade the level of innovative spirit in, in the country right now? I mean, do these young people think different now than they did when you were coming up? Is it more pervasive? Is it less pervasive? What, what’s your, what’s the general trend from, you know, your perspective on that?
Jeremy Hitchcock (07:43):
I think it’s, it’s, it’s as vibrant as ever. I mean, I, I watch people coming outta school versus my kids and just how they interface tech with technology. And like, I watch my daughter, I mean, she, she knows how to type on a keyboard, but she’s using text to or speech to text all the time instead of typing. And, and, and she just thinks about it differently. And, and I watch students who are coming out and, and they’re, they’re just so literate. And, and it used to be that you had to train yourself to be a specialist in a lot of fields, whether it was mechanical or engineering or chemistry or computer science. And people are coming out as poly maths more and more just because the world is starting to get these interdisciplinary world. So like, it’s, it’s a really cool time. I mean, there’s a whole conversation around AI and, and, and bringing different knowledge sets together. So it, it’s a great time to build, it’s a great time to start companies. There’s a lot of just, I think goodness and, and that innovative spirit and, and how to deploy some of those new, new capabilities into greatness.
General Joe Votel (08:40):
It’s interesting you just say that and talk about your daughter. One of the discussions my wife Michelle and I always have is when we, when we need information and you know, I will pick up my phone and I’ll start typing into Google. And what she’ll do is she’ll tap her thing and she’ll talk to Siri and you know, again, just a different, a different way of thinking about this. And so anyways, so I’ll, I’ll, now I’m gonna tell her there’s actually some, some scientific innovative background in her approach to this. She’ll be very proud of that.
Jeremy Hitchcock (09:10):
The cool kids are doing it.
General Joe Votel (09:11):
Yeah, exactly. So you finished college and you worked your tail off for 10 years secured your first round of funding for 38 million bucks in 2012. And by 2017 you’d been acquired by Oracle reportedly for a lot of money. North of 600 million bucks. It sounds like the dream of any young entrepreneur, but I’m sure it wasn’t without some pretty hard choices and maybe a few failures or setbacks along the way, like any of us, you know, we, we learn more from our failures than our successes. And again, you know, a guy that grew up in the, in the special operations community, I mean, that whole organization that we, that we built grew out of the, you know, a failed operation in Iran back in 1980. I mean, that really, you know, that failure on a national scale, a strategic scale really forced us to take a hard look at ourselves and develop something that was much more resilient or robust. I, I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about your experiences in that regard and your philosophy on how failure can be a powerful tool for, for growth.
Jeremy Hitchcock (10:13):
Yeah. Because everyone reads about success in, in business and, and they like to celebrate the good parts. And the opposite of that, I think is, has taken place where we only write about the salacious bits, the, the somebody having a bad day and just it being an embarrassment. But we haven’t, I think, figured out how to channel our energy into places where we can use them as, as those teachable moments, those learning lessons that are, that are help bring us together and, and be able to say, how can we avoid mistakes like this, but do so in a place where there, there’s, there’s a level of safety and comfort. I think about it a lot in, in company started with, with, with four co-founders. And throughout the journey there were, there was one, there was one idiot left on the island. There was me left. And in, in each of those cases I think back and, and, and one of them certainly was, was not a positive experience, one was neutral and another one was, was real positive. And that’s the part of, of, of building a company that’s, that’s so team dependent and it’s, and it’s, and it’s applicable, I think, across every industry, every walk of life is you’re thinking about how to work better with others. And that set of learning lessons from, from each of those of basically corporate divorce of how to go through and conduct yourself as a good human to think about what’s, what’s right for the individuals. And, and as time went on and, and got to practice it a couple times, you know, got better at it. But I, I do remember reading a book that Clay Christensen wrote, and he’s obviously most famous for disruptive innovation and the notion of how, how industries compete and disrupt themselves with the, the, the low cheap thing. But he also wrote this book called, how Will You Measure Your Life? And for me it was just a real set of grounding principles about how Clay Christensen said he was a Harvard Business school, both professor and student. And when he went back to his, his reunion, he noticed that there were so many people, there were these titans of industry and a lot of ’em would come back and they were miserable and say, well, that, that doesn’t make sense. Like, why would people want to be miserable and not happy? And they were maybe estranged from their family, or they, they weren’t good or ethical people. And, and he actually said, you know, if you, if you think about setting a strategy for how you can conduct yourself and think about happiness, ethics, but being also a good professional that then you can really be able to, to hit all of those. And so that was for me, a a way of allowing my profession, not completely consuming myself. And, and also just thinking about building something that’s bigger than you. And so when, when you have that mindset of separating, I, I’m a co-founder, which has very much that central identity of the company, but when you separate yourself from that identity, a lot of things become more clear. And so it’s painful to do that because sometimes you’ll do stuff that’s in the interest of the company that’s that’s, that’s better and grander that you but a lot of times you just have to swallow those pills, move on and, and, and know that you’re doing something for the greater good.
General Joe Votel (13:11):
Yeah, that’s fantastic. I, I appreciate you talking about that book. I’d love to check it out. And I think that’s a really important point. I think it’s one of the things, you know, I learned in my career is that a lot of subordinate leaders are, were watching me to see how I grounded myself, how I, how I added balance to my life, how I balance the values associated with my family life, personal life with the values that went along with being, being a professional military officer. And, and oftentimes those are, those are in competition with each other. And so how you balance that is really very, very critical. So, you know, again, you went through some tough times. You, you alluded to some of these things here. The, the massive leak of classified materials associated with WikiLeaks that had an impact on you, a major DDoS attack here impacted you very, very significantly. What did you learn about risk, risk reward and how you, how you kind of balanced those things going forward?
Jeremy Hitchcock (14:05):
For us, we, we really thought about who were our stakeholders and, and you mentioned the who are the leaders that are watching you? And, and we thought a lot about where we came from. We were an open source project and we thought a lot about the community in which had both supported us and, and, and which we were dependent and who depended on us. And so we thought of ourselves as how, how could we build a stable and, and important part of the internet, but also representing that we were, we’re only a portion, we’re not, we’re not supposed to be the, the, the end all be all in 2010. We, we had a customer that was WikiLeaks, and, and obviously that’s a, that’s a pretty famous story about what happens around that time. They publish a bunch of content, they get start getting a bunch of flack for, and, and there can be debates about transparency and, and the like. But they, they, they did stuff that irritated some people and, and also they could have been advancing their mission perhaps in a, in a slightly different way. And so they started getting a bunch of attacks against them. And so we thought long and hard about what was the right way. Is it a free speech issue? Is it a, you know, some sort of technical contribution that they’re trying to make? And, and we did spend some time with the WikiLeaks tech team said, Hey, like, if you want to go do what you’re trying to do, here’s a couple ideas. And, and I think the motives weren’t quite in line in what they were trying to do. And so it became real easy from a customer standpoint of saying they were not a good customer for us. And so remember pretty clearly evening in December 10:00 PM I was in, in my living room with a couple of our, our team and pushed the button. And 17 minutes later it’s, it’s referenced on Huffington Post and it’s attributed to us. And, you know, next day we’re on the, we’re on the, the news. And, and again, like a lot of, a lot of organizations, I think this is where how you ground yourself is so important. Could have, we could have used that event as a big publicity thing, but really we were trying to do right by our customers. In the end. The calculus for us was they were endangering us as in our livelihood and our customers livelihood because they couldn’t conduct business cuz they kept getting these attacks that affected us all. So that, that became a real simple thing. And 2016, throughout the six years between them, tons of attacks. But 2016 was definitely a high watermark. That October was that day in October was not a good day. I was going to speak at a conference and around seven o’clock my phone just melts with pager notifications and I could see from the system notifications that like, those were messages that weren’t ever supposed to be sent. Like the thing is broken was basically what, what the, what the message was and made a couple calls and, and knew that in, in that moment it was really a, a question of how we had prepared ourself. Because in those moments where it, it’s you’re, you’re just trying to mitigate a crisis, it’s you can, you have to conduct yourself in the way you practiced. And, and fortunately I think we had, we had done a lot in preparing our teams to, to be successful. And so I did my thing at whatever conference, kind of checked in afterwards and I headed over to the company and, and you know, in, in the end I think the way in which style matters and how you conduct yourself as a business and team. And so throughout the day we saw our customers, some of our competitors even basically ordering delivery food for our tech teams cuz they knew that they were glued to their keywords trying to, trying to fix things. And, and it was definitely something where, where style matters and, and, and going kind of too close to the, to the sun really can get you burned. And so I I, there are a couple times where we skated too close and, and, and, and certainly I knew that we could, we could improve on those. But I think in those two scenarios, I think we, we did a nice job in conducting ourselves.
General Joe Votel (17:41):
I would love to talk a little bit about New North Ventures and, and kind of what you’re doing now. I should acknowledge, I know recently you lost one of your co-founders, Brett Davis a guy who I’ve had an opportunity to, to meet and, and think quite a bit of. A former CIA officer EOD Diver. So we’re certainly sad for, for his loss, but talk with us a little bit about what you’re doing with this new venture.
Jeremy Hitchcock (18:05):
Yeah, and, and Brett was a special dude and, and the reason why I’m doing venture at the intersection of, of national security innovation is, is really because of our collaboration. We were both at a phase trying to think about what was next. He was leaving the CIA trying to think about how he could do some of the work he had done commercial and, and activities that, that that benefited the national security apparatus. And I wanted to do something that was more mission oriented. We met through somebody at the Navy Seal Foundation, the defense contractor was thinking about building a venture studio. And so we were looking at rummaging around there and after, after a bit two of us kind of looked at each other and said, you know what, let’s just do this ourselves on our own. And, and, and then we were off and running. And, and just, we had such a fun time because we were, I mean, just different in the sense of our, our career and upbringing. We used to say that we were exotic zoo animals a tech person going, looking at a spook and I have no idea what to think of him. And, and, and he was the same way. Like, well, that’s this tech entrepreneur and like I’ve worn ties more frequently than I ever have in my, my life. And it’s really driven us to the place where we invest in these bold ideas, these consequential leaders, these pioneering technologies to advance national security. And, and, and at least for, for me personally, in investing companies early stage that’re pushing on this mission, I got to spend so much time on internet standards and seeing what goodness can come from government, commercial industry working together to go build these transformational platforms like the internet, like gps like space and, and continue to push on those. And so that’s what we’re, we’re excited to keep going on. And, and we’re doing it in Brett’s name. And I have a partner Stephanie Blistry who, who worked with Brett for a bit and she’s coming on as a general partner. So we’re, we’re excited to keep going on the mission.
General Joe Votel (19:55):
So I’m sure we could talk all day here on a variety of things, but we’re kind of getting to the end of the so-called five questions here. So let me ask you one more question. Wh why, why did you join BENS? Why BENS?
Jeremy Hitchcock (20:08):
I’m a year in and it’s, it’s been such an exciting time. I, I think it was really to keep pushing on the ways in which government and industry can work together. And I, you know, I’ve heard many times the, the BENS mission taking industry best practices to government, but I, I think it’s a two-way street. I think there’s, there’s plenty for industry to learn from government. I think in, in AI and technology innovation, humans and how people think around applying that attribution ethics and decision making that’s, that’s not present quite enough in, in, in in, in how technology and, and tech community works. But there’s so many things to continue to push on innovation, advancing human capital or workforce cultural things. And, and also a lot of our problems are global resiliency. And I think that the, the, there’s a lot to learn from, from both from both walks working together. So excited to be here and be a part of it.
General Joe Votel (21:03):
That’s great. Well, we’re, we’re so glad so glad to have you on board and you’re kind of a triple threat here cuz you’re, you’re, you’re hitting on all the big pillars here. I mean, you’re traveling you’re doing engagements. We had you as a panelist down in down in Naples last fall and we got you doing project work. I’m really excited about what you’re, what you’re helping us with on war gaming war gaming of the future here 21st Century War gaming. I think it’s just, it’s phenomenal stuff and in introducing some advanced technologies ideas into this, I think is exactly the kind of things we need. So we’re very, very, very glad to have you and I really appreciate you joining us today for, for our podcast. So thanks Jeremy,
Jeremy Hitchcock (21:43):
Thanks General. Thanks for the opportunity
General Joe Votel (21:45):
And thanks everybody for joining us for another episode of Five Questions with the CEO today. We’ve been talking with Jeremy Hitchcock, a Boston member and the co-founder and partner at New North Ventures. Thanks thanks for listening and we look forward to coming to you again.
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